It’s not unusual for a college student to look at that person in the front of the class, trying to get them to learn, to study, to improve their lives, as one-dimensional, just a professor, just a physicist, just a sociologist, just an economist.
That would be wrong, and obscure one of the best things about the college experience – the wide variety of people you get to meet and learn from in all their roles.
Take Amanda Ross for example.
Ross is a demanding academician – a role she’s had at West Virginia University since 2011. But when she’s not teaching a room full of 340 students in ECON 201, she can be found on the soccer pitch as one of just a quartet of internationally certified soccer referees in the country.
“Students don’t expect it when I tell them,” Ross said. “You’d never think a professor is capable of that or that it would be their hobby.”
“To hear that my professor was a referee was something really amazing, because it showed us that in academic life you can follow your hobbies and accomplish great things, like being in academia would not stop you from doing things you like,” says graduate student Juan Tomas Sayago Gomez.
“I remember when I heard that she was going to referee the USA-Costa Rica game on Sept. 1, 2012, I thought to be able to be in such game was impressive, to me in soccer is like being recognized to be in the highest level of a competition.”
Ross is one of just four FIFA-level assistant referees in the United States, something that sets her apart from every other economics professor in the country, making WVU one of a kind.
Try to find a connection between economics and soccer. It’s not easy. Ross doesn’t have one either. All she knows is that she has a passion for both.
Soccer has been a part of her life since birth. Economics, while not so embedded in her heart from the get-go, became her passion in undergrad at Syracuse University after having an inspirational professor – something she strives to be for her students at WVU.
Ross has refereed soccer since she was 13, quickly moving up the ranks, officiating collegiate and women’s professional league games. Earlier this year, she was elevated to FIFA level. Earlier this month, she received her badge to add to her uniform.
"To hear that my professor was a referee was something really amazing, because it showed us that in academic life you can follow your hobbies and accomplish great things, like being in academia would not stop you from doing things you like."
-- Juan Tomas Sayago Gomez, graduate student
Ross officiated the 2013 Women’s College Cup last November and has been assistant referee in three international friendlies for the U.S. women’s national team. She was also on the sideline for the under-17 U.S. men’s national team’s friendly against Brazil in 2012.
Earlier this month, she took part in the under-17 U.S. women’s national team’s training camp before the U-17 World Cup. Her goal is to referee a larger tournament like the World Cup or Summer Olympics. Although she isn’t eligible to referee in the 2015 Women’s World Cup, she will be for the 2018 Summer Olympics and 2019 Women’s World Cup. She is eligible to referee in the under-17 and under-20 World Cups this summer.
Ross grew up in Rochester, N.Y., widely considered in the mid-90s to be “Soccer Town USA,” thanks to widespread interest and participation in the sport. It was the sport to play, and she did until her sophomore year of high school before deciding to stick to refereeing.
Her family loved the game, too. At one time or another, her father, brother and four cousins tried out officiating. She’s the one that kept up with it the longest.
“I never would have made it twice as far as a player as I have as a referee. I would have never been on the national team as a player, but I get to be on that stage now as a referee,” she said. “It’s a personality thing ? I enjoyed it. I had fun interacting with the players and being involved with the game.”
It takes a lot of hard work and preparation to become a FIFA-level assistant referee. Ross works out six days a week. She receives a text message from her trainer at 2 a.m. each night with her workout plan.
Depending on the workout type, she has to either meet or exceed a specific heart rate. During matches, Ross wears a heart-rate monitor, as well. FIFA referees have to take and pass a fitness test multiple times each year to stay certified.
“I’ve got to keep up with [U.S. women’s national team forward] Alex Morgan. She’s fast,” Ross said.
For women’s professional games, Ross runs an average of five miles. For that reason, soccer referees usually work one game a week. In the summer, she referees an average of three games per month. In the spring and fall, it’s much less frequent. Because of the rigorous expectations, there’s a mandatory retirement at age 45. And, of course, if they aren’t performing well enough, they can have their FIFA designation stripped.
"Students don't expect it when I tell them.You'd never think a professor is capable of that or that it would be their hobby."
-- Amanda Ross
Her payoff usually comes in the form of boos, as referees are commonly considered the most-hated people on the pitch, especially if fans, parents or players disagree with a certain call. That negativity forces some aspiring referees to choose another career path, she said.
“We’re told that we can get a call wrong once, but if we get it wrong a second time, we always get the call wrong,” Ross said. “Everyone makes mistakes, and when you make one, you know it right away. At that point, you just look the players in the eye and say, ‘I screwed up. I’m sorry. My bad.’ At the professional level, they’ll look at you and say OK. They respect you for owning up to it.”
The concentration and determination to push through those boos and continue to referee at the highest level has helped Ross in the classroom, too. It takes a passionate person, she said, to be able to manage being a top-flight referee and a professor and still remember to focus on the details – something, of course, that is so key in microeconomics.
“You always hear the boos,” she said. “But, eventually it doesn’t phase you. It actually pumps me up. You have to have a thick skin to deal with that.”
She specifically remembers her second-ever international match, a friendly between the U.S. women’s national team and Ireland in Phoenix. She walked onto the pitch for the national anthem beside one of the world’s best players, U.S. forward Abby Wambach, and Kari Seitz, the most decorated and experienced international referee in U.S. Soccer history.
She stood at midfield while The Star Spangled Banner played and gazed up at the crowd similarly to how she does it each Tuesday and Thursday in her lecture hall. She read the signs and let the patriotism and pride overtake her for a moment.
“I started to think, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m standing here,’” she recalled. “You just wonder how you got to this moment. It’s hard to believe.”
Each game, as she walks out onto the pitch – no matter the stadium or crowd – she gets butterflies about the opportunity in front of her.
“That hasn’t gone away,” she said.
By Tony Dobies
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